Helping your car stay cool during winter

Avoiding overheating during the winter months

Reuben Van Niekerk
Consumer advice
driving tips
vehicle maintenance
car servicing

A car that suffers from overheating problems can easily leave you stranded on the side of the road and lead to expensive repair bills. While it may seem like summer is the prime time for vehicle overheating issues, it is actually winter that has a biggest effect on the development of these issues. Car engines operate in excess of 100 degrees Celsius and can overheat even during cold ambient temperatures if the cooling system is not working optimally. While modern cars are designed to operate in extreme cold and hot conditions, preventative maintenance is required in order to ensure that they are able to do so.

A cars radiator and cooling system is responsible for cooling the fluid that keeps the engine within the correct operating temperature. On a modern car this fluid is also responsible for warming the cabin via the heater as well as assisting to warm up components like the fuelling system and intake manifold on cold mornings. It is therefore easy to see why your cars cooling system should be well maintained all year round.

Cold weather can cause the coolant inside the cars cooling system and radiator to freeze which puts huge strain on the components and can cause them to crack and start to leak. The cold will also cause metal components to contract which could lead to the loosening of connections leading to leaks.

Clues that your coolant systems needs to be checked

There are a variety of tell-tale signs that your cars radiator and cooling system is not performing optimally.

The cooling system on modern cars operates on a closed system, meaning that it shouldn't use or lose any water. It is important to check your cars coolant on a regular basis. If you notice that your car is losing water via puddles underneath or a low level in the reservoir, you should have it checked by experts immediately. Many modern cars will also feature a low fluid level warning light that should be acted on immediately.

An obvious sign of trouble is an overheating engine characterised by steam, the smell of hot fluid or a rise in temperature as indicated by the car’s temperature gauge. Allowing a car to overheat significantly or repeatedly can cause significant damage to major engine components which will be costly to repair. If your car overheats, you should stop driving immediately, allow it to cool down and get it to specialist workshop immediately, preferably by means of a tow in service.

Hidden culprits

There are a variety of hidden culprits that could also lead to the cars cooling system not working optimally. These will and should be checked by experts during servicing or when diagnosing an overheating issue.

A car’s cooling systems utilises a thermostat to regulate the flow of coolant according to the engines temperature and these components can become sticky over time. A faulty thermostat could prevent the flow of coolant from the engine to the radiator, leading to potential overheating.

Sludge caused by rust in the system can restrict the flow of coolant and will severely impact the systems effectiveness. This can be prevented by regular servicing where the system is filled with the correct coolant that is designed to slow down the corrosion process and prevent sludge from accumulating.

The cooling system also relies on a variety of electronic components including valves, flow controllers and fans to control the flow of water and cooling. A fault with any of these will require workshop diagnostic equipment to locate and repair.

Keeping cool

As with any car maintenance, prevention is better than cure and properly caring for and maintaining your car should prevent any cooling system issues from occurring.

Cars rely on air moving over the radiator to cool the coolant as it circulates through the radiator. Be sure to check and clean your cars radiator and cooling apertures, should they become clogged with dust or debris, especially if you do a lot of off-road driving.

Overnight temperatures during winter months in South Africa can very easily cause the fluid in a cars coolant system to freeze. If at all possible, park your car inside or under cover to prevent this from happening.

Ensure that your cars radiator is topped up with the correct coolant. Your cars coolant system should never be filled with plain water. Manufacturers recommend specific coolant types for specific vehicles. These liquids are specially developed to be efficient in cooling and resistant to freezing and it is important to keep the cooling system filled with the correct coolant.

Proper maintenance is essential for maintaining a cars performance and regular inspections by an accredited workshop who will carry out cleaning, coolant flushes and timely repairs will help to prevent engine overheating and identifying of potential issues before they escalate into costly problems.

Accredited workshops that form part of the Motus group have the staff and tools required to diagnose and repair any vehicle coolant issues or servicing requirements. Find your nearest dealership here.